Understanding Women: Speaking In Unisex

29 Sep 2015|pughi


51% of people in the world are women, but Baileys was the only brand in Diageo’s portfolio that recognised them as a consumer. It was time for a new perspective; Diageo knew that they were missing big opportunities in marketing to women, and were well aware of their spending power as well as evolved consumer behaviours. Conscious that they didn’t alienate men in the process, they came to us to help them open their eyes into the world of women, to be able to speak unisex.

We knew we had to get under the cliché’s of marketing to women – forget painting a product pink and slapping on a pretty bow – we needed to reach the complex heart of the female world, as well as uncover the way that diverse femininity plays out across different cities and countries. We couldn’t do this through desk research: direct experience was needed. So we packed our bags and travelled to Brazil, Mexico and North America – key markets prioritised due to their abundant multiple layers of culture.

With such a big question in hand of how to market to women we couldn’t limit our methodology or materials. We immersed ourselves and let the culture lead us through the process, exploring and uncovering the truly emergent edges within it, using semiotics to expose the secret language and life of women. We were like detectives, moving from clue to clue to string together the whole picture.

We took on the idea that in order to understand people and society you need to understand the environment around them. The work of anthropologist Danny Miller was particularly influential, specifically his books ‘A Theory of Shopping’, ‘The Comfort of Things’ and ‘Stuff’.

Laying the foundations and structuring the story, we spent quality time in each of the markets’ cities and surrounding areas, including Mexico City, São Paolo, Recife, New York, Miami and Kansas City. To find the examples that would shatter clichés it was important to explore cutting edge as well as mainstream. As well as exploring numerous shopping centres and supermarkets, discovering intriguing local brands, and reading a wide range of magazines and media titles, we made sure that we were visiting the places and areas that really mattered – the latest brightest places in Condesa, the hang-outs of the wealthy middle class in Roma and Polanco, and the career-determined in the cosmopolitan utopia, Manhattan.

We consumed many real life experiences, including a balmy evening in São Paolo with a feminist activist and pop-up restaurant owner, discussing at length what the dominant ideals of femininity were in Brazil whilst sitting on the floor devouring fresh oranges sprinkled with salt. Essentially we immersed ourselves totally in everything that surrounded us.

Back in London, we returned with our bags full of local magazines and a bottle or two of Mescal, our smartphones bursting with notes and anecdotes, and our cameras full of fascinating footage and vibrant photographs. We returned with a real sense of what was at stake for women in each of these countries, and a direct experience of the cultural world they lived in. Our work began as we took to our abundant materials to decode and decipher what femininity really meant in these markets.

Different issues and topics were brought to light in each market. Through cultural immersion and semiotic analysis we structured and sub-grouped the many issues and topics around femininity and categorised them into distinctive areas that included ‘perfection’ and ‘real women’.

As examples, a strong influence of ‘perfection’ was particularly found in Mexico which was highlighted through the power of social roles for women, where their entire identity could be judged by which type of role they played in the family and community. This was forcefully illustrated by the prevalence of imagery resembling Madonna in the market’s fashion and entertainment magazines. In the U.S. we identified the category of ‘real women’ as one that dominated the market, compared to its newly-emerging status in the Latin American markets.

Combining all our skills over cultural, consumer and brand insight, we were able to turn the distinctive areas into 6 key principles: Aesthetics, Story-telling, Relationships, Goodness, Success and Communication. Each of the principles was illustrated with a simple explanation, a short film backed by real life consumer quotes, examples of other brands leading in the area and how they could impact Diageo’s brands was demonstrated. Painting a pithy picture of femininity across diverse markets, the principles were not only simple and intuitive – which captured the depth of our research and thinking – they exposed the tangible cultural elements that affect real women in everyday life. They showed Diageo how to communicate to women in a way that would genuinely connect, in an actionable strategic way.

The principles were immediately understood and led the way to define Diageo’s approach to marketing to women on a global level. The executive board, which was predominantly male at that time, were tremendously excited; in their words “the scales dropped from their eyes”. They’ve since witnessed a transition into how Diageo does business, including the board members, which now has a 50:50 male to female ratio.

Diageo have turned our work and concept ideas into real life executions throughout their vast brand portfolio, including impacting big global brands such as Guinness, Johnnie Walker and Baileys. It’s guided them on a journey of how not only to connect to women but also how to connect to the world as one – inclusively.

Guinness has acknowledged how important women are to the success of the brand and now ensure their marketing reflects that. By looking at their brand though the lens of ‘The Power of Aesthetics’, Guinness has unlocked the insight that by being more inclusive of women, it will enable them to win not only the female market but also the next generation of men.

Baileys is on a journey to celebrate the female world, taking on a new approach to target spirited women. With the brands manifesto stating the need to make women feel brilliant and celebrate their world, Baileys has taken on all aspects of the 6 principles. They support the prestigious Baileys Prize for Fiction as well as local book clubs, demonstrating a strong example of ‘providing opportunities for her to succeed’ principle in action.

Johnnie Walker has been on an incredible journey of change; including famously appointing renowned American actress Christina Hendricks as spokesperson, partnering with actress Kim So-yeon in the Korean launch of their Platinum Label range, accentuating the bilingual unisex nature of the brand, and teaming up with ‘Giants’ who celebrated influential individuals around the world who embody the core values of the Johnnie Walker brand including Vanessa Vilela, a UN nominee for one of the 10 most entrepreneurial women in the world for having created a Brazilian cosmetics company based on coffee which within four years became a leading example of sustainable business in action. A set of brave new steps which they would never have previously considered has helped set the ambition of doubling Johnnie Walker sales to women over the next five years. Their latest campaign, which launched last month is a celebration of ‘joy’ which keeps everyone walking even further.

Over in Africa, a new drink called ‘SNAPP’ has successfully been innovated for the market. The inspiration behind SNAPP was to provide African women with a drink they deserve and to make it their own. Choice was limited in Africa, but Diageo used ‘the power of aesthetics’ and drew on ‘the power of women’s relationships’ to inform every part of the marketing mix – from liquid, to pack, to serve and communication. This provides the women of Africa with a sophisticated alternative to beer, and a drink they are proud to be seen with. At the time of launch SNAPP was the most successful new-to-world ready to drink brand launch in the history of Diageo, reaching £10.9m.

Expanding on the journey of evolving cultures, Smirnoff, the world’s biggest international spirit brand by volume, has a target to be the vodka for everyone. Recognising the bigger picture and looking at what really matters, especially to the millennial generation, they’ve identified the cultural mission for Smirnoff to move the world to be more inclusive and open in a truly unisex way.

As we knew from the beginning, many of women’s desires in alcohol weren’t being met and engagement levels were low within the category. In less than 5 years Diageo has turned this on its head.

We were tasked with changing the mind-set towards women in one of the largest alcohol companies in the world. It was a challenge that we embraced and treasured, and one that we felt strong emotional passion for. For us, this is what Cultural Insight is all about; before you can act or think differently you need to see the world in a different light.

The 6 principles to market to women:
1. Use the power of aesthetics: be surprising, playful and desirable.
2. Tell engaging stories: focus on the human aspect of your story and connect emotionally.
3. Listen and talk to her: understand the complexity of her life and the role your brand plays within it.
4. Draw on the power of women’s relationships: help her connect with the people that matter the most and leverage the power of network.
5. Help her be good: to make the right decisions for herself and others.
6. Provide opportunities for her to succeed: to learn and to grow as a person.


This case study was recently presented at ESOMAR Congress 2015 in partnership with Diageo.

The imagery is owned by Diageo.

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